People wait in line to fill containers with fuel at a Shell gas station October 30, 2012 in Edison, New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy which hit New York and New Jersey left much of Bergen County flooded and without power. (Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Superstorm Sandy continued its path across the United States on Wednesday, even as millions begin the task of putting their lives, homes and towns back together after one of the worst storms in the nation's history.
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But while New York City buses returned to darkened streets eerily free of traffic and the New York Stock Exchange prepared to reopen, it became clear that restoring the region to its ordinarily frenetic pace could take days - and that rebuilding the hardest-hit communities and the transportation networks that link them together could take considerably longer.
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The storm remains enormous, reaching from the Great Lakes to New England. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said late Tuesday there were no reports of major flooding as the center of the weakening weather system drifted west to Pittsburgh throughout the night.
"We are breathing somewhat of a sigh of relief," Corbett said. But the state still has about 1 million people without power. "I'll breathe a better sigh of relief when we get everybody back on line with electricity," he said.
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Early Wednesday, a fire broke out in Mantoloking, N.J., which was hard hit by Sandy. Video from WNBC-TV in New York showed flames, but it wasn't clear what was burning. The small town, which sits between the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay, suffered severe damage during the storm.
In its 5 a.m. ET update Wednesday the National Weather Service called the storm a "remnant," but one that still is causing flooding, gale force winds and heavy rains and snows.
Sandy is expected to turn north across western New York and into the Canadian province of Ontario Wednesday afternoon.
Sandy has caused at least 55 U.S. deaths so far - 25 in New York, including 18 in flood- and wind-ravaged New York City. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he expected rescue workers to find more casualties as they comb through the wreckage.
Wednesday marks the first day back at work for many in the hardest-hit areas, with days and weeks of cleanup ahead. Two of the nation's busiest airports, New York's Kennedy Airport and New Jersey's Newark Airport, were scheduled to reopen at 7 a.m. for limited service. LaGuardia Airport will stay closed because of extensive damage caused by runway flooding. This should begin to relieve the backlog of the more than 18,100 flights canceled since Sunday.
There were still only hints of the economic impact of the storm.
Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted it will end up causing about $20 billion in damage and $10 billion to $30 billion in lost business. Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses up to $15 billion - big numbers probably offset by reconstruction and repairs that will contribute to longer-term growth.
Amtrak planned to resume some passenger train service in the Northeast, but flooding continued to prevent service to and from New York's Penn Station. No date has been set for the resumption of the Northeast Regional service between New York and Boston.
Tuesday night in New Jersey, the state hardest hit by the storm, Gov. Chris Christie said "Tomorrow recovery begins. Today was a day of sorrow." He went on: "There's nothing wrong with that. So long as sorrow doesn't replace resilience, we'll be just fine."
President Obama is expected to survey damage in hard-hit areas of New Jersey Wednesday with Christie. "We're going to do everything to help you get back on your feet," he said.
Millions of people faced a second day without power Wednesday as temperatures stayed in the 30s and 40s. At its peak more than 8.5 million people were without electricity Tuesday.
Looting in some areas has been a problem, with reports of thieves posing as electric workers to gain entrance to closed off areas.
New York's power company estimated it would be four days before the last of the 323,000 customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who lost power have electricity restored. For the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County, with more than 450,000 outages, it could take a week.
While some bus service resumed and bridges reopened Tuesday, transit officials said they couldn't predict when the subway would run again.
Bloomberg promised "a very heavy police presence" in darkened neighborhoods, including much of Manhattan south of the Empire State Building, from the East River to the Hudson River. Police brought in banks of lights and boosted patrols to deter crime. Some businesses hired private security.
But despite the problems, the New York Stock Exchange will reopen at 9:30 a.m., with Bloomberg ringing the opening bell.
Multiple TV shows shot in New York had their film permits revoked for a second day Tuesday, including Smash, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, 30 Rock, Deception and Do No Harm. Other series whose production was closed were SVU, 666 Park, Gossip Girl and Person of Interest.
David Letterman performed the Late Show in an empty Ed Sullivan Theater Tuesday night, as he had Monday. The Colbert Report and The Daily Show canceled tapings for the second day.
All 40 Broadway theaters were closed. Many hoped to open Wednesday, but both The Lion King and Mary Poppins announced that Wednesday's shows would also be canceled. Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall and Lincoln Center shows were also closed. The Metropolitan Opera said it planned to go ahead with its Wednesday evening performance of Thomas Ades' The Tempest.
At least 17 states suffered intense effects from the storm.
Coastal flooding along the Great Lakes was possible due to strong and persistent northerly winds.
The mountains of West Virginia could get a dumping of up to 10 inches of more snow, bringing totals to between 2 and 3 feet in places. Surf conditions along the Atlantic, from Florida through New England, are expected to remain dangerous through Friday.
Across the storm region:
- Many school districts remained closed Wednesday as officials inspected buildings to ensure they were safe before reopening.
- In Virginia, utility crews hope to complete all storm restoration work by Thursday night except for a few locations where flooding or severe damage occurred.
- In West Virginia, utilities scrambled to restore power to thousands of customers amid snow storms and freezing temperatures. Poor road conditions were hampering assessment efforts.
- The Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area was returning to normal after being spared the brunt of Sandy. The storm flooded a few city streets and downed trees and power lines.
- In Michigan, winds gusting to 74 miles per hour knocked out power to at least 153,000 homes and businesses. But the chance to ride two-story-tall waves drew at least one surfer out onto Lake Michigan on Tuesday. "You don't get waves like this every single day. So when you do, you just have to take advantage," said Cameron Mammina, a 21-year-old surf shop manager who took several days off to surf off St. Joseph. Even better surfing was predicted for Wednesday, with the winds dying down but the waves still tall, and Mammina said he planned to be back.
- On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, residents and property owners were coping with flooding although emergency management officials say it could have been worse. The storm closed highway NC 12, known as "the beach road," and a portion of U.S. 158 in Kitty Hawk, one of the main entryways to the area.
- A 103-year-old oak tree that fell during the storm in New Haven, Conn., revealed a skeleton that may have been there since Colonial times. The tree was on the town green, in an area where thousands were buried in the Colonial era.
- Along the storm's path, many communities are postponing Halloween celebrations until streets are once again safe. In New Jersey, Gov. Christie vowed to reschedule Halloween if it was too dangerous for children to go trick-or-treating Wednesday night. In a tweet, he pledged to sign an executive order rescheduling the holiday.
Contributing: The Associated Press, Asbury Park Press